Say what?: Tablet-based speech analysis system could catch concussions

A tablet-based testing system may soon be able to listen to a voice of an individual—a football player, for instance—and by analyzing speech patterns, determine whether the person has suffered a concussion, according to researchers at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

"This project is a great example of how mobile computing and sensing technologies can transform healthcare," Christian Poellabauer, PhD, associate professor of computer science and engineering, said in a press release. "More important, because almost 90 percent of concussions go unrecognized, this technology offers tremendous potential to reduce the impact of concussive and subconcussive hits to the head."

The system works by listening to a person’s speech to establish a baseline before a potentially concussion-inducing event, such as a football game or boxing match. This is then compared with a second sample taken after the event, as the system looks for traumatic brain injury indicators, such as distorted vowels, hyper nasality and imprecise consonants, according to the researchers.

Poellabauer tested the system during an annual Notre Dame student boxing tournament in 2012. A total of nine concussions were confirmed among the 125 participants by the tablet-based test and the university’s medical team. Another round of tests during the 2013 boxing tournament is currently being evaluated, according to the university.

If the system proves reliable, it would offer the advantages of portability and timeliness that CT, MRI and other large pieces of medical equipment lack.